If you’re familiar with the recent trend of farm to table, you’ve probably heard the buzz words “super grains” or “ancient grains.” What are they, and, if they’re so super and ancient, why are we just hearing about them now? As you’ve probably guessed by now, we’re going to answer that question in this week’s nutrition article!
Super grains are referred to as “super” because they’re powerhouses of nutrition. And, as you’ll soon find out, some of them are not grains at all but seeds. Ounce for ounce, they pack a solid punch when it comes to fiber, protein and a host of other good-for-you nutrients. Occasionally you’ll also hear them referred to as “ancient.” What this means is that they’re been around since ancient times and have changed relatively little or none at all. They’re organic, haven’t been genetically modified, unrefined and there’s very little processing. Why we’re hearing about them now is, due to the healthy lifestyle trend in recent years, they’re coming to the forefront as good alternatives to grains that are heavily processed.
Other than health reasons, there’s another reason that was a key factor to the almost disappearance of super grains in the United States. Early in the 20th century, the public demand turned to quick, instant solutions for meals. In turn, the food market industry put aside these super (ancient) grains in favor of wheat that was bred and modified for rapid growth and easier milling. The new wheat was cheaper to manufacture and process, therefore much more profitable. This lead to the super grains being put aside and the supermarket shelves were flooded with modern, highly processed (albeit much less healthy) wheat. The kicker is that, for decades, very clever marketers have done a great job of convincing the general public of how healthy modern wheat actually is for you, when it’s so highly processed it can’t hold a candle to the super grains!
To those of you in marketing please don’t send me hate mail. You’re only doing your job. And, I’ll let you in on a secret – my full-time job is in that very same field!
We do need to address one more issue before we go into the health benefits of super grains. Many people shy away from grains because they shudder at the very mention of a carbohydrate. My advice to you is to immediately jump off of that brain-washing train. For years diet marketers have convinced you that carbohydrates are evil and should be avoided at all costs. However, your body needs carbs for energy and, the plain truth is, that the right kinds of carbs are very, very good for you. Think about this: Carbohydrates are the only source of energy your brain can use, as well as a source of energy to your body’s cells. Grains are not the enemy; the key is choosing the right ones (i.e. unrefined and not processed).
While the list of super grains is long, we’re only going to focus on the top five that are easy to find at just about any grocery store. I live in a very rural area and can find these at my local, run-of-the-mill grocery and super stores. As an added bonus, if you can cook processed white rice and pasta, you can cook any of these grains. Boil water, add grains, set a timer and go do something else until the buzzer goes off. And why wouldn’t you do something that easy that is so incredibly good for you and your family vs. the highly processed, low nutrition, starchy carb, weight-gain-inducing rice and pasta?
Not only are the super grains ridiculously easy to cook, as mentioned earlier they’re pretty impressive nutritionally and packed with fiber and protein. These two nutrients not only help you to stay fuller longer, they aid weight loss as well as weight maintenance, boost your energy levels and help to stabilize moods.
Now that we have that straight, let’s talk about a few super grains!
- Quinoa (keen-wah). Quinoa is native to Bolivia and comes in white, red and black and is a nutritional powerhouse. One cup contains 8 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, 15 percent of your daily iron, 30 percent of your daily magnesium and 19 percent of your daily folate. It also has heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and – get this – is a complete protein by itself, meaning it provides all nine essential amino acids. Simply put, it’s a one-stop-shop when it comes to protein; you don’t need a meat protein with it unless you choose to! It is small, similar to soft grits in texture and can be used in the place of rice and pasta.
- Farro. Farro can be traced back to ancient Egypt. It has twice the protein and fiber than modern wheat. One cup contains 10 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein and 120 milligrams of magnesium. It is rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients (antioxidant and immune system health), lignans (cancer prevention and promotes heart health) and betaine (promotes heart health and muscle gain). The carbohydrates in faro are called cyanogenic glucosides, which stimulate the immune system, lower cholesterol and help to maintain blood sugar levels. Slightly nutty and chewy in texture, farro is similar to a large grain of rice in size and is great in soups (doesn’t get mushy), salads and as a side dish. It is the star of this week’s Unity recipe!
- Chia. Yep, this is the same chia that was used years ago in the chia pets and chia heads ( I know, I know, I’m dating myself with that comment!). However, other than the sprouting green pig I remember from my Grandma’s dining room, the black seeds are edible and extremely healthy. Chia seeds come from the plant Salvia hispanica and dates back to the Mayan and Aztec cultures. Unprocessed and considered a whole-grain food, one ounce has 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, 18 percent of your daily calcium and a massive amount of nutrients with very few calories. Chia seeds are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and have a high amount of anti-oxidant properties. Though they have relatively little taste, they can be added to just about anything. Blend in smoothies, sprinkle onto oatmeal and salads, bake into desserts, swirl into yogurt for a little crunch.
- Oats. Oats are loaded with dietary fiber, which helps to reduce the risks of both heart disease and colon cancer. The specific type of fiber in oats, beta-glucan, helps to lower the level of LDL (low-density lipid, or bad) cholesterol. One cup has 8.2 grams of fiber and is high in manganese, selenium, magnesium and zinc. Oats are also rich in carotenoids (antioxidant), vitamin E (antioxidant) and flavonoids (antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties). Oats are most familiar to us as a breakfast food, but can also be used in breads and sprinkled over salads. However, remember to use whole grain instead of instant. Instant is highly processed and a lot of the good-for-you stuff is gone!
- Flax. Flax was cultivated in Babylon as early as 3000 B.C. Both the seed and the oil are rich in essential omega-3 fatty acids, lignans, and fiber and help to reduce the risk of breast, prostate and colon cancers. Flax also helps to reduce the risk of heart disease, lowers blood pressure and aids in controlling blood sugar. Flax is slightly nutty in flavor and can be bought ground (flax flour) and in oil form. If purchasing the oil, be sure it’s non-GMO and organic. Add flour or oil to salads, cereals, oatmeal, smoothies, soups and yogurt.
Now that super grains have been demystified, be daring and try one of them this week. Check out this week’s recipe, Unity’s Farro Salad!